Audism in Your Backyard

audismWhat a week it has been. It started when I innocently decided to critique Edan Chapman’s article, We Are the Deaf. I thought it was a fairly measured critique but apparently not. Out came my mate Paul who said that by critiquing the article as I did I was the equivalent of the Alexendar Graham Bell Association, that bastion of oralism. On the other side of the coin some aggrieved parents labelled poor Edan mentally deranged and called me an anti-oralist. And then there was Jane who had this to say,

“An old classmate of mine saw you at the Deafness summit. He commented that you were possibly the only level headed speaker there and really appreciated what you had to say.”

From the Antichrist to a hero in 60 seconds. It was totally bizarre.

But anyway, as I do, I decided to write about it, particularly of the response of some parents at the Aussie Deaf Parent’s page. ( Not its real name, but they got upset when I used the real name.) Basically in this article I outed the abusive parents who attack anyone that expresses a view contrary to their own. Indeed my own wife, for venturing a balanced view, got asked in no uncertain terms to leave the group. This is in part what she said.

“.. As they grow older they develop more conscious, they become aware of the little incidents that may or may not deliberately exclude them. As you get older you get told no more. More barriers get thrown up. It’s exhausting. It’s exhausting and even the best hearing amplification and language skills are not always enough. Its not always easy being human, let alone a deaf human.”

So for this bit of personal insight she basically got told to fuck off. There is no kinder way to put it. In disgust she quit the group.

My article basically condemned the pack mentality. I asked that the “PACK” back off and not bully those whose views they found confronting. I then praised those who were more open minded and accepting of different viewpoints who are part of the group. The latter, I believe, are firmly in the majority.

It was then my intention to not write for a while. You see the response was just overwhelming. I did not know what hit me. And then they kicked me out of the group. The administrator  contacted me and said I had maligned the group and upset the parents, therefore I had to go. But the bullying and victimisation of people posting alternate views was left unaddressed. The whole thing is a fascinating study of Audism.

Audism is often seen as a dirty word. But what is it? Alex Jones in his Vlog for AI Media defined Audism simply as the world viewing deafness as bad. Jones describes other aspects of Audism where sign language is seen as inferior and speech superior. He describes how deaf people  have been oppressed over the years and made to speak, even banned from signing. This view of hearing as superior and deafness as an inferior and bad thing is what Audism is all about.

Audism is a very controversial term and one that really ruffles feathers. Indeed even our deaf organisations exhibit Audism. For example Deafness Forum currently have a very clever Hearing Health campaign happening. They want to see deafness listed as a health priority.

This campaign is not just about preventing deafness or fixing it but it is also about deaf people accessing the health system. This can be done by providing appropriate communication support and response to people who are deaf. As such it is a very broad campaign.

But even Deafness Forum pander to the masses. They know that to convince hearing decision makers to part with their money they must target what these decision makers know. Of course, by and large, decision makers are Audist. They see deafness as a bad thing. Hence Deafness Forum unashamedly use hearing and sympathetic/emotional imagery of kids hearing for the first time. Indeed the slogan ‘Breaking the Sound Barrier’ smacks of Audism.

For me this is almost like selling your soul to the devil. All it does is reinforce the stereotypes that we try so hard to breakdown. But  Audism takes no prisoners. It demands that deafness and all people deaf be eradicated.  If this is not possible then the unfortunately afflicted must fit in with the hearing norm. There can be no value in deafness for the Audist.

That  is how our society works. Everything is designed for hearing people with little thought to the needs of deaf, or any disabled people for that matter. A deaf person goes to hospital they are expected to hear and lipread. If they cannot often they get looks of pity or exasperation. Watch the nurses roll their eyes knowing that their time is going to be taken up with communicating with a deaf person. Watch doctors continue to talk even after you ask them to write. Watch the excuses about cost start to roll out once you ask for interpreters or captioning.  This is the attitude of an Audist society

This exists everywhere in all services and in education. Deaf have to fit in with hearing. Rarely is thought given to design of services so that all needs are met. Nearly every time it is about responding rather than being proactive. Not all the time – BUT JUST ABOUT EVERY TIME!

Understandably this small group of parents on the almost fictional Aussie Deaf Parents page, who all have deaf kids, are Audists too. I say understandably because for many their deaf kid will be the first time, ever, that they have experienced deafness. Understandably they want their deaf kids to be like them. They want them to experience all the things that they value. When they see their kids learning to speak and doing well they see their decisions being vindicated. I get that but deafness is such a broad experience. When the child leaves that protective environment of the family and the school, real life starts. It is not always pretty.

We deaf people know this and we want to help parents navigate this  minefield. We want them to understand what may happen in the future so that they may help their kids develop the life skills and resilience to deal. “BUT”, say these parents, ”IT’S DIFFERENT NOW. My kids school captain, my kids in the music group, my kids in the Footy team, my kid had hearing  friends for a sleep over last week… IT’S DIFFERENT. My kid thinks he isn’t deaf because deaf kids can’t speak and HE CAN!”

All these things happened in the past too. In the past and now there were and are successful deaf people. Tradesmen, teachers, lawyers, doctors, architects, social workers and even nurses. Deaf people have been successful since forever. BUT, by and large, they had one thing in common, they worked doubly hard to get where they are. They had barriers, attitudes, discrimination and prejudice to deal with. Everyday they deal with this almost everywhere that they go.

That does not mean they are all basket cases, though for sure many become that way because they struggle to deal with this crap on a daily bases. It means that they know how to deal with the crap and there is so much parents and deaf kids can learn from deaf people that have walked the talk.

To cut them off because one finds their experiences as too confronting is just denial, and that is not the name of a river in Egypt. But that’s Audism for you. To those parents I say, again, open yourselves to the experiences of deaf adults both good and bad. It may well be the best thing you ever do for your deaf kids.

19 thoughts on “Audism in Your Backyard

  1. Thanks Gary. it has been my experience that it is only when these children become ‘basket cases’ and are fed up with coping with the crap that parents turn to the Deaf Community for help.

      • She said when it goes wrong … That’s when they seek out the Deaf community … She didnt say all become that way. Try not to over generalise … It’s not helpful.

        But Mandy is right … All too often when a deaf child is struggling they try methods that are clearly not working for many years … Then around age 8 when language is deprived and social development impacted they dump these kids at deaf schools and units where they have to play catch up … Thankfully much less now but in the 70s 80s and 90s was all to common …

        Mandy has been a professional in the field for probably five decades … She would know and deserves our respect not derision.

      • Sonia I was actually quoting the article in my comment.

        However, Gary is right. I have been a professional working with the Deaf Community for close to 4 decades BUT (and most importantly) I also live in the Deaf Community. I have been married to a Deaf person for nearly 40 years and love him and the Deaf Community with a passion that has kept me involved (and married) for those 4 decades.

        I believe that I have a fairly solid understanding of what it is like to be deaf (gained from hearing the life experiences of my Deaf friends) although I know that I will never truely understand the experience of being deaf as it is not my life experience.

        I have in these 4 decades been asked (on more occasions than I care to remember) to introduce a young deaf adult into the Deaf Community or teach them to use Auslan because they are having mental health issues relating to their isolation from the ‘hearing world’.

        As parents we want what is best for or kids and as a parent and grandparent myself, I fully understand the angst that you feel.

        The single most important thing that I have learnt is that it is only deaf people who know the answers to the questions that you have. ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ and in this case ‘the village’ must include the Deaf Community.

  2. While I don’t entirely agree with Gary’s article, as a parent of a deaf child I can see both sides of the coin.

    I am neither pro Auslan or pro aural, but I do make a choice for my child and I am happy with it. If he chooses some thing different later on that his choice and I will support it.

    On that note, lots of things were said on the forum that Gary mentioned and I for one will put my hand and say I may have over reacted on some ponts. So to Marnie in particular, I apologise for anything I may have said to upset you. Reacting to hurtful comments said to me and upsetting others is not the right way to handle things.

    I hope now the dust has settled, we can all respect each other’s views, opinions and choices and agree to disagree occassionally.

  3. I am surprised that you don’t believe that the attacks should not be encouraged. After all, you posted an article that attacked others, so by the same standard you should welcome the attacks as other people express there heartfelt feelings on the matter.
    Is this what we want?
    Of Course not.
    If we expect to be treated with respect, we must hold the same yardstick.
    Edan has every right to voice himself privately, but not publicly, just as no-one had the right to attack you.
    You have mentioned Edan is a nice guy, and we shouldn’t take him literally. Why not – all I have to go by is the article you posted by him – of course i take it literally – that’s what words are!
    As I have written this 12 hours after reading the post, I am still emotionally tangled in this topic.
    Why – because people I am yet to meet will assume all deaf and hearing impaired people think like Edan – he has made my life more difficult, as if I didn’t have enough preconceptions and stereotypes to deal with.

    We don’t have the right to say whatever we want just because of free speech or our feelings. We must limit our outpourings to what will help others, especially in areas set up to help others who are struggling.

    Finally, I respect your right to have a different opinion to me.

    • But Edan did not attack anyone personally … He simply expressed his frustrations in trying to interact with a world that is not accommodating.

      I challenged his use of language and also his imagery but point is he attacked no one personally. People took it personally because they could not look past their own emotions.

      Likewise I attacked no one personally. I actually went into bat for hearing people and parents. Got labelled anti oralist somehow. My wife was attacked and told to go away simply because she dared to say being deaf was hard for some people.

      As you said Edans article has in many ways made it harder for deaf people. That was the essence of my original article. But people emotive response to Edan has meant they missed that message.

      Because Edan chose to air his views inn a controversial way does not give people licence to tear him apart.

      You want understanding and compassion show it. Two wrongs do not make a right.

  4. After being a teacher of the Deaf for over 35 years I am SO TIRED of this debate! It has raged for over 200 years and unfortunately I don’t see an end to it any time soon UNLESS everyone stops looking for a perfect solution for every child. There will NEVER be a one-size fits all solution. The ‘great communication debate’ MUST depend on the individual needs of EACH child in EACH situation. Therefore, as parents and educators we must prepare the children in our care as best we can for EVERY communication situation they will face in the future. Now let’s be practical here. Some Deaf and HoH children will NEVER acquire understandable speech. They will need to be able to communicate with hearing people in other ways – writing, communication aids etc. Others will develop speech – good on them! Some will have successful cochlear implants and be able to access auditory pathways in noisy situations – that’s great! But others will find this tiring and prefer to use captioning or Auslan interpreters – nothing wrong with that either. My preference was audition in small groups of three or four for short periods but Auslan for conferences and definitely Auslan for university lectures (it gave me more clarity with the expression). Horses for courses.
    For the sake of the next generation of Deaf and HoH children let’s STOP the bitter arguing and put the children and their needs first. Give them ALL the options so they can CHOOSE what is best for them in all the situations in which they find themselves.

  5. Although I agree there will always be children/ adults that will need Auslan and suffer with mental health issues or identity , the newer deaf children are just coming through the system now.
    They have different augmentation, they are accessing better sound, they are being socially / emotionally and age apropriate and function in a local
    Community environment.
    I respect the years of you being apart of the Deaf community but I don’t respect the intense push to drive kids to Auslan and to the deaf community.
    Auslan will always be apart of some HoH, deaf children’s life, it’s time you considered the fact that not all will go astray, not all will seek out the community and a huge majority of the deaf / HoH kids now are doing better than I think you’d hope.
    It’s a sad story you portray that personally I’d keep my child from as long as I can.
    Before you ask yes, I have a deaf child and yes I’ve been apart of the community for over 40 years.
    I see the need to accept things are changing and will continue to.

    • Perfect comment for me. My son mild/mod severe age 13 hears better than I do with his hearing aids on. He is such a well adjusted young man. We went theory TSC when he was diagnosed at 2. I have him booked into the Hear for You mentoring programme in June (Oral). He really has no need to learn Auslan. Yes it is a beautiful language and it is a necessity for some, but not all children.

      • I agree Sonia .. if he is doing well. Hear for You is a great program. Dave Brady is a great mentor too. I hope he enjoys his time there.

        I hope he learns Auslan one day too (And you too). The more the merrier.

    • Thanks Belle … I appreciate the comment.

      I will point out though that this is third article in a series. I have never suggested one choose sign or one choose speech .. this is something that has been lost in translation.

      I have more than once acknowledged that kids with Cochlear implants are exhibiting better English and literacy than in the past. Despite this they can still struggle in hearing society and for whatever reason seek out the Deaf community.

      My underlying message is the experience of deafness is diverse. Often the experience requires knowledge and skills to deal with barriers that our largely hearing society places in front of deaf people.

      Deaf people know that for all the benefits that implants bring there are still challenges. These challenges require “life skills” It is deaf adults, whether they are part of the Deaf community or not, that have walked the talk and they will tell you that sound is often not enough.

      Knowing how they deal with these challenges helps parents guide and support their kids. It’s not a signing oral thing. It’s not a Deaf community hearing thing.

      It’s just life … Listen is all I say, even when its confronting.

      It’s as I said, deaf people have been successful since forever .. no one knows how better than them. Listen to them.

  6. I hear what you are saying, may I suggest to you that it’s impossible to predict the impact on this generation of augmented deaf. I suggest that after I’ve seen personally (having been around the community for 40 years) that the children I see now are far better equiped for hearing life, can actually fit in and have a better awareness of their emotional and educational settings than ever before.
    There are still children that need more assistance as there is in a hearing mainstream setting.
    The Deaf community need to expand and be more pliable if they are to keep their heritage, it’s loosing the grace it once had.
    I’ve read your other pieces and although I don’t know you there is a strong underlining sadness and bitterness towards the newer HoH/ deaf generation.
    Is it a threat to you? Why the increasingly need to prove the community exists? I’m all for helping every child on their needs, give them all the help they need to access sound, and if need be Auslan – yes wonderful, but why the increasing push?
    May I be as bold to say it’s the non- verbal ( Auslan )that’s putting a wedge in this age old debate.
    Write a positive piece on the children hitting highs in any form they take.. Make us want to introduce children and parents to your Deaf community.. Because right now I’d steer anyone away.
    There’s less people against Auslan than you think, more against the attitude of the users.

    • Belle, no bitterness at all only concern and a wish for pragmatism. As a professional that supports people with a disability in employment and tertiary education I just see many who come through the system who get very frustrated. Yes they hear very well, much better than the past but they still have many barriers and struggles. They are often ill prepared for thes3 challenges.

      They contact me from everywhere. Nearly all have cochlear implants now but they still have access needs. Captioning, interpreting, communication at work, applying technologies to work situation. Big groups, noisy backgrounds etc. Frustrations with support services including mental health and entry point. What I often hear is …. Because I hear well and speak well people think I’m ok … I’m not.

      Last week I had a young woman with bilateral implants come to see me because she has not progressed at work while other colleagues have. She was saying how frustrated she was when she’s is expected to cope in meetings of 20. She described how office partitioning is a barrier to communicating because she couldn’t see people’s faces. She was in tears and very frustrated. She asked how can I get people to take me seriously. She needed info and strategies to deal, including text and technological solutions, let alone personal strategies. I continue to support her and have linked her to deaf professionals in her field so she can learn from them.

      We spoke .. She spoke wonderfully, she is intelligent and very literate. A complete success but still the hearing world frustrated her. I know it sounds negative but it’s reality. Then you have online education, videos not captioned, audio with no transcripts. It’s a hearing world and it often frustrates … It makes some mentally fragile.

      All I want is for kids to learn from the experiences of others. It’s nothing to do with deaf or hearing worlds but simply dealing with reality.

      As for the Deaf community being adaptable .. It already is. Virtually all of its members under thirty have implants. But it’s not really what I am talking about … It’s about life skills and learning and being prepared.

      As for positive stories. I have written 411 of these things … There are some positives there, celebrations of achievements and the like.

      But I am thankful that deaf kids today have so much better language and literacy. I am thankful technology has advanced so. I am thankful access is better now. But there are still things to know learn and consider .. It worries me that these things are glossed over sometimes. There is certainly no threat either. I think we all just want deaf kids to be as successful as they can be … All I and others are trying to do is provide the benefit of experience and wisdom.

      Thanks again for your measured response.

  7. Hi I’m deaf daddy. I do have single CI. I have bilateral CI 5 years old in mainstream school with no interpreters. I’m not interested about deaf culture and autism. CI nothing wrong and not out of reach. He knows surrounds to hear like slide automatic doors at club and supermarket announcer with noise background! CI are much better technology!

    I’m sick of anti CI posts and articles everywhere! I saw 2 Auslan interpreters Facebook posts they are anti CI. They are unprofessionals I would never hire them at all. I have own favourite Auslan interpreter support me for my son in oral path. Oral professionals understand me for between my son and myself in sign language only. He talk with any people and talk over the phone without a problem. Old man with hearing aids said to my son your dad is good dad for cochlear implants we smiled and appreciated!

    I have seen oral deaf adults and kids nothing wrong with them. It’s total up to them to join deaf community or not. Leave oral deaf kids alone. They are belong to families. My deaf friends agreed with me about my son to go hearing world nothing wrong.

    Auslan is beautiful sign language and Cued speech is beautiful spoken language!

    My son is belongs to his families not deaf community full stop!

  8. At the end of the day, what EVERYONE needs to understand is this: language is acquired easily by children up to the age of 5. Over 5 y.o. it gets progressively more difficult to acquire language. If one makes a decision when a child is very young, to go one way or another, that is a choice and you have to live with that choice…..and sometimes that choice limits the options for the deaf child as they grow up. A child may have speech that only the immediate family understands – what good is that? A child that has been exposed to speech AND Auslan AND hearing aids AND CI has been exposed to the wider range of options and choices and, hopefully in the process, are taught to be knowledgeable, strong resilient and confident and able to speak up against injustices. Sadly, sometimes the emphasis is so much on the speech that other basic skills and education gets left behind.

    At the end of the day, it is simply about communication – and if the communication method is one that suits the child best, then it means they don’t have to worry about understanding nuances and meanings and etc…. and they can get to the heart of the learning… so they become better skilled as a result. To give an example, if you were in a classroom and the lesson for the day was to learn Pythagoruses Theorem and the teacher was Japanese. You only know limited expressive and receptive Japanese. How much of your time in that lesson is going to be spent on trying to understand what he is saying and then applying it to the lesson at hand. If you knew fluent Japanese no issues – you have a communication language that you are familiar and comfortable with and so you can just focus on the problem at hand. But if the language means is “broken”, then more of your time is spent trying to figure out what has been said and less time on learning the lesson.

    I am a strong advocate for using everything – speech, Auslan, Hearing Aids, CI because I believe in giving the deaf child as many tools as possible to enable them to make the best of life – because it isn’t going to be easy or fair. The other tools I would give them is resilience, confidence and strong self belief. Without these, the number of deaf who are so lonely and isolated and with mental health issues

    I have two foster children in my permanent care – both are of Sudanese background but born in Australia. They are not deaf. My role as a carer is to ensure they have the skills to help them in the world out there. I want them to be strong, articulate and to stand up for themselves because I know the world is not fair to people of a different colour. We show them stories and videos of people who have achieved, people who are great role models. We are teaching them to ignore those nasty mean ones and how to quietly stand up for themselves. I can see similarities between their situation and people who are deaf.

    Rant end! But I have to agree with lynnecg. Why is this even an issue? The bottom line should be, use EVRYTHING to give the child the best options possible. Don’t confine yourself to one option because what is your plan B if Plan A doesn’t work out…. years down the track.

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